Putting solar panels in a parking lot is an excellent way for companies to produce more on-site energy, which can substantially reduce energy bills. IKEA completed its first solar project in the Maryland city of Baltimore in 2021. Representatives could see the positive results even before construction finished.
More specifically, there was an 84% drop in the energy purchased by the store between September and December 2020. That was the equivalent of 57% in energy savings for that location. This project is one of eight planned solar initiatives at various IKEA locations. Five of those efforts include energy storage systems. Then, during times of surplus, the stores can keep extra solar power for later use.
Another example of using parking lot solar power for increased energy independence comes from electric truck manufacturer Rivian. The company installed a charging yard consisting of several solar parking lot canopies at an Illinois production facility.
Then, the newly made trucks get their first charges with renewable energy. People at the company built the area so that up to 72 trucks could use it simultaneously. Representatives are also working on implementing a wind turbine to increase the overall charging potential.
It’s important that power supply equipment can withstand harsh conditions, including water ingress and radiation. Depending on how much snow an area receives, the ideal angle for the panels could change. Typically though, most solar panels are installed at a 30-45 degree angle.
Since weather dependency is a potential downside of solar arrays, people must do similar investigations to ensure planned installations will perform as expected. That means determining the percentage of sunny days versus rainy ones and how much sunlight the parking lot receives before moving forward with their installations.
Some people behind parking lot solar power installations will strategically collect data they can use for future efforts or share with other interested parties. Consider the 17 solar canopies associated with a project that began in 2021 at Clemson University. Each one has from 138 to 204 energy-collecting modules. They’re also various sizes due to the parking lot’s shape. However, the largest canopy spreads across up to 24 parking spaces.
Tony Putnam, who directs the university’s utility services department, said that lessons learned from this installation could impact whether more canopies go up elsewhere on campus. The canopies have sensors that collect real-time data about how factors such as solar irradiance, temperatures, and winds affect how the installations perform.
Using parking lot solar panel installations is not yet widespread in the United States. However, in France, senators recently voted to make solar canopies mandatory for all parking areas with more than 80 spaces. This will occur over the next five years. The data collected in France and elsewhere should show whether wider adoption is worthwhile.
Range anxiety can make people hesitate about buying electric cars. That’s understandable since there are far fewer charging points than fuel pumps. However, various efforts are underway to make it easier to recharge. One company’s portable charger can provide 15 miles of range in 15 minutes.
Researchers from Michigan Technological University investigated the potential of building electric vehicle charging stations that integrate with parking lot solar power equipment at large retailers. One proposed example concerned Walmart Supercenters. Data from the study suggested the canopies could generate 3.1 megawatts of electricity for each such location in the United States. That amount could power 100 charging points for electric vehicles.
It also helps that Walmart Supercenters are so widespread across the United States. A related takeaway from the study was that those stores could collectively provide more than 346,000 charging points. If that happened, such initiatives would cover the electric vehicle power needs for approximately 90% of American consumers.
However, it could be a while before the practice of combining electric vehicle chargers with parking lot solar panels becomes more popular. One of the main reasons relates to the energy required to charge these cars quickly. For example, some companies need 469 solar panels to power one 150-kilowatt fast charger.
Putting solar panels over parking lots is a practical way to increase the property’s shady areas. Many people put windshield screens on their cars while parked since intense sunlight can decrease the life span of vehicle electronics. It also makes interior surfaces, such as leather seats, uncomfortable to use once temperatures get too high.
When energy data company TGS put five solar arrays over the employee parking lot, providing a shady spot from the southern sun was one of the priorities. Workers had reportedly requested covered parking spaces for years. This project provided them, along with other notable benefits.
For starters, the solar panels generate approximately 60% of the energy used at the Houston office. Using them causes a corresponding 30% reduction in the company’s greenhouse gas emissions. The TGS canopy will cut 1.4 million pounds of carbon dioxide emissions annually, getting results equivalent to planting nearly 11,000 trees.
In another example, Disneyland Paris committed to a project that will eventually include solar panels covering 11,200 parking spaces. As of April 2022, the theme park finished a phase encompassing the use of more than 42,000 panels over 7,000 parking spots. The panels associated with that milestone will produce 10 GWh every year, or enough to cover the electricity needs of a city with 4,800 residents.
Long-term parking lot solar power plans for Disneyland Paris involve covering 49 acres with solar panels, which would generate 36 GWh annually. Such efforts fit into the park’s six-prong environmental focus, which includes reducing greenhouse gas emissions and preserving the planet for future generations.
These four benefits are only some of the many reasons why putting solar installations over parking spaces is often such a smart move. Such plans require extensive forethought, and they’ll likely need larger budgets than conventional solar panels. However, these strategically placed solar arrays benefit companies, consumers, and the planet. As they become more widespread, people should feel more encouraged to potentially use them, too.
Solar panels placed over parking spaces are not the best option in all cases. For example, they’re more likely to pay off in large parking lots. However, they’re among the many options that can help companies get closer to their sustainability goals.